Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Caught between a couch and a dream.

"According to Vedanta, there are only two symptoms of enlightenment, just two indications that a transformation is taking place within you toward a higher consciousness. The first symptom is that you stop worrying. Things don't bother you anymore. You become light-hearted and full of joy. The second symptom is that you encounter more and more meaningful coincidences in your life, more and more synchronicities. And this accelerates to the point where you actually experience the miraculous.
Deepak Chopra

The other day I came home form a very long day at work. I was tired, felt like I hadn’t been particularly effective, and just wanted to come home and watch TV and go to bed. I was feeling like I was in a little bit of a rut, and felt the faintest twinge of self-pity kicking in. I hated feeling like this, but as a human like the rest of the humans I’m prone to all the same self-doubt and regret as everyone else. So it goes.

I took a long look at my couch and it pissed me off. There is a tear in the middle cushion and every time I look at it I get irritated. I know it’s time to buy another couch, but somehow I just can’t bring myself to do it.

One of the most meaningful peaces of research I ever read discussed how when people buy ‘things”, such as cars, clothes, electronics, etc. it makes them happy for a VERY short while. Part of the point of the article was to emphasize the point that money doesn’t buy permanent happiness, not a huge surprise to me. The second part of the article was more interesting however. It seems money can buy happiness under certain circumstances, specifically when you spend your money on meaningful experiences. The research showed that in these cases the memories produced by these experiences are a reward that lasts for a significant amount of time, in some cases even for the rest of your life, and that therefore, in this one instance, money could in a sense buy happiness.

But back to my story. Because I was feeling so irritated, I decided to do the unthinkable and clean my house. I am a single man and I live alone, and this is not something that is very often at the top of my list. I knew that perhaps giving myself a clean environment to relax in would make me feel a little better, and I begrudgingly got to work.

The turning point in this story came when I actually moved my couch to vacuum, which for me was about a once a year kind of project. There, to my extreme disbelief, sat 7 crumpled hundred dollar bills. How in the hell did they get there? Were they left by the previous owner? Had I hid them like a squirrel and repressed the memory? I didn’t know, but wow what an incredible surprise.

And here is where I came to the fork in the road. I looked back at my sad-looking couch. For 700 dollars I could get something kind of spiffy. Maybe black leather, or tiger-stripes, or something like that. Damn.. Now I was anxious again.. I’d had this money for 5 minutes and it was already causing me distress..

Then I remembered my research. I had recently looked in to going to Costa Rica for several weeks to do some volunteer work with children while also taking a hardly-earned vacation. I could swing it, no doubt, but it would be 3 weeks I wouldn’t be bringing money in as a therapist, and quite a bit of money spent down in Costa Rica. I wavered and put it on the back burner to think about a little before making a commitment.

And now, improbably, a solution to the problem emerged. It was kind of hard to believe. I took one last look at my couch and made a decision. Two minutes later I had booked my trip and, now, will likely embark on a life-changing experience in less than a week’s time.

I’m not totally sure yet how to make sense of this story in terms of synchronicity, because of course I don’t know how the story ends. Kierkegaard said, “life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.” I could meet the love of my life down there, or I could create an international incident and get thrown into a dingy Central American prison. One thing I do know is that this feels right. Of course I’m looking forward to doing all of all of the fun, touristy, nightlife stuff while I’m down there, but beyond that it is a chance to truly stretch my consciousness and explore a world totally different than my own. My Spanish is not great, and I will have to rely heavily on truly listening to make real connections down there. Perhaps this opportunity is some kind of a cosmic reminder to talk a little less and listen a little more. I don’t know, but the die has been cast and I am terribly excited.

Joseph Campbell talked about money as energy. If you want more money than you have to figure out how much of your energy you really want to expend in pursuit of this. He also said, “I think the person who takes a job in order to live - that is to say, for the money - has turned himself into a slave.” I think that’s true as well. We all have to make choices and sacrifices, but eventually we may come to the end of our lives and realize we have worked and sweated and saved only to see that there were so many dreams we didn’t get to follow while we were in survival mode. This is sad to me. I saw many people in nursing homes that delayed travel and adventure until old age, and then got sick and saw all of their “bucket list’ money go up in smoke paying medical bills. It never failed to break my heart. An excellent essay from Steve Paulina reminds us, “don’t die with your music still inside of you.” Wonderful advice and something I will very much take to heart on my Central American adventure.


  1. With the open attitude you are starting the trip with, following coincidence and intuition, I am sure that you'll have an intensely rewarding journey. Enjoy the Flow in Costa Rica!

  2. You really "cleaned" up. Your expansion of consciousness validates my theory of synchronicities found in a soon to be published book I titled: DEMYSTIFYING MEANINGFUL COINCIDENCES (SYNCHRONICITIES): The Evolving Self, The Personal Unconscious, and The Creative Process. Now there is a stocking stuffer for you. Happy sailing - you sound as if you are on the edge of a big time transformation. Good luck